Australia has recorded its first Covid-19 death in one month, with Victoria’s chief health officer, Dr Brett Sutton, announcing that a man in his 80s died overnight, bringing the country’s total death toll to 103.
It came as Victoria grappled with a spike in cases in the past week, reporting double-digit rises in new cases every day for more than one week. Twenty new cases of the virus were announced by Sutton on Wednesday. The new cases include three staff members who tested positive at Hampstead dental clinic in Maidstone, 8km north-west from Melbourne city. There are now 241 cases that have been identified since the epidemic began in Victoria that indicate community transmission, an increase of eight since yesterday.
“That number has been around 10 every day, but a decrease to eight is somewhat encouraging,” Sutton said. “It certainly means we’re not getting an increase or an exponential increase in community transmission cases day by day.”
But the rise has health authorities, including those interstate, concerned. Testing has been increased across the most affected council areas where “hotspots” of the virus have emerged including in Hume, Brimbank, Moreland, Darebin, Cardinia and Casey. Almost one in five Victorians live in these areas.
On Wednesday the New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, reiterated her warning to NSW tourism businesses to avoid taking bookings from Victorian travellers from hotspot locations, and warned NSW residents not to travel to those areas. She told the ABC that while she was confident the increase in cases was “manageable”, it was also “a good wake-up call to remind us about how contagious the disease is and how quickly it can get out of control”.
“Whilst community spread is still what it is, whilst people are still chasing those contacts to warn them, to self-isolate and do all those things it’s just common sense to make sure that NSW businesses and organisations avoid any interaction with anybody from those hotspots unless they know that person has been cleared and doesn’t have Covid,” she said.
Sutton said three new cases were linked to an outbreak that occurred within a large family living in Keilor Downs, a suburb 18km north-west of Melbourne in the council area of Brimbank. That brings to 15 the total number in that family outbreak. An early learning centre in Essendon was closed on Wednesday morning after a child tested positive. Contact tracing and cleaning are under way. Sutton said the family of the elderly man who died overnight had requested privacy and that no further information be given.
Large teams of public health workers have been door-knocking in the suburbs most affected to ensure people are aware of social distancing and hygiene requirements and where to get tested. Further efforts have been made to engage people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Sutton said many of the recent cases were a result of families visiting each other as restrictions eased, even if they were unwell or awaiting test results. Health guidelines are clear that anyone who is unwell with even mild symptoms should get tested, isolate themselves until the test results come back, and continue to isolate for 14 days if they test positive.
Sutton said across all communities, there were people who were suspicious of government health advice, listening to misinformation, and failing to do the right thing.
“I think it’s an issue in pockets of communities everywhere,” he said. “This is not an easy behavioural task to go through. And when the levers of government really change every aspect of your life are in place, people go to other sources of information that question it. I think there are pockets and individuals and networks within every single community where there are suspicions about the key messages and where there is misinformation that’s circulating quite freely. So we need to compete in that space and make sure that the evidence-based message are out there in full.”